The Perfect March Madness Bracket, Everyone!

Perfect because I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING.

I watched a lot of the conference championship games over the weekend, listened to other prognosticators, etc. And then I knew a colleague of mine would be running the annual pool, so I dove in for ten bucks and filled this one out today.

I feel fairly confident about some 1st round upset picks, like UC Irvine, New Mexico State and Murray State… but as we delve deeper, I realized I had knocked every #1 seed out of my final four. Ah well…. there’s an argument to be made for North Carolina over Kentucky or Tennessee over Kentucky, but I figured I’d pick ’em both times and go all in.

I’m also pretty confident in seeing Duke knocked out of the elite 8 by VA Tech, if not sooner…. I think every other team out there knows that if you force Duke to shoot outside, you have a real chance.

Yeah, I have Yale going to the Sweet 16. I think they have a real shot at upsetting LSU in the opener, and again in round 2… but don’t get me wrong, Yale still sucks and should be razed to the ground for the ongoing damage it continues to do to America as a whole. It’s the only Ivy (so far, anyway) caught up in the current pay-to-get-in admission scandal. It’s law school alums make up far too much a share of our current political landscape. The only thing going for it is that it’s not Harvard.

Brown hasn’t made the tournament since 1986. BUT I’M NOT BITTER.

I’m really not, I couldn’t care less.

Nobody’s bribing their way into Brown! Yay! I think Brown still lets people in free and makes them bribe their way out. But don’t hold me to that.

Anyhow, it’s always fun to watch far too much college hoops this time of year, root for underdogs, root for some kid I never heard of to have a great game or more, feel old whenever some kid is the son of someone I remember playing in the pros or college, feel REALLY old whenever a coach is younger than I am, shake my head over a guy as funny as Charles Barkley not be funny in cringe-worthy badly scripted Spike Lee credit card commercials (Seriously, Sir Charles, call me…. I can make FAR better ads for you to be in) that also manage to totally untap the ocean of talents in Samuel L. Jackson, now that I think of it…


Feel free to critique my bracket. But as I said…


Friday Art: The Pianist, by Lyubov Popova (1914)

Popova had a too-brief but strong career as an avant-garde painter and textile designer in early 20th century Russia. She mixed elements of Cubism with Futurism, like in “The Pianist” above, a work that evokes the cubism of Braque (especially the way she paints the musical instrument) with the futuristic style evoking maybe Joseph Stella, especially in the way that her cubist lines seem to converge at various focal points.

So, what kind of music do you hear in your head when you look at this painting? It’s 1914, but somehow I hear an elegant cool Vince Guaraldi-style jazz piano coming from that player’s fingers. I can assume Popova’s contemporaries heard something more along the lines of Scriabin or Stravinsky, whatever served as their we’re-the-cutting-edge soundtrack as her and her cohorts developed the Constructionist school in the last days of Czarist Russia and during the Lenin era of the Soviet regime.

Popova died in 1924, only 35, contracting scarlet fever from her son who had died two days earlier. Clearly the lesson here is not to have kids. Then again, considering how Stalin clamped down on all abstract art as a form of decadence, had Popova lived, she would have either been forced to produce figure art by the late 1920s onwards or would have wound up dead in Siberia or exiled if she were lucky.

It’s not easy being Russian. I’m certainly glad my family got the hell out of there two dozen years earlier. I’ll enjoy my American weekend with some nice piano music, perhaps. Maybe Scriabin, Stravinsky, Guaraldi and maybe some Henry Gray and Jerry Lee Lewis. Go piano team USA! L’chaim!

That Was Pop: Relistening to XTC, Part 4

XTC enjoyed a resurgence in popularity building up to their biggest radio hits in the late 1980s, only to retreat back into niche-cult band status by the early 1990s and then nearly vanishing altogether. An interesting thing happened… they unleashed what Andy Partridge describes as their pent-up love of 1960s psychadelic rock and it altered them artistically, somewhat. It burst out all at once in 1985 for what seemed like a gag EP record, but then continued to flow intermittently across their catalog afterwards.

After the commercial (but certainly not artistic) flop of their 1984 disc The Big Express, they switched gears and put out an April Fool’s novelty record, pretending to be a long-lost 1960s psychedelic band called The Dukes of Stratosphear. Andy & Colin either wrote newly designed ’60s style psychedelia or retooled rejected songs to fit the bill and came up with a wonderfully fun 6 song EP released on April 1, 1985. Their actual names were nowhere to be found, and only the familiar sound of their voices and the tell-tale sign of their early producer John Leckie at the helm were the clues as to who they really were.

It’s a great record, where they knock off the styles of The Electric Prunes or Syd Barrett and others. Sound effects, backward tracks, random spoken recordings and whatnot dropped into the production evoke the sorts of pot and acid induced studio wizardry from 1967 that they’re going for. Bottom line is that the songs are catchy and fun. They sound like they’re having fun, too – what a mood/vibe 180 turnaround from the PTSD feel of Mummer or the bargaining/reckoning stage of The Big Express. Listening to “My Love Explodes” or the Lennon-esque “Mole From The Ministry” made me think that that maybe Andy Partridge actually enjoyed being a musician again.

Continue reading “That Was Pop: Relistening to XTC, Part 4”

Friday Art: Still Life With Cat & Fish by Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin (1728)

Chardin was a wonderful French late-Baroque painter of still lifes and domestic scenes. He painted realistic tranquil settings and enjoyed success during his life, including selling some works to King Louis XV. As he got older though, his sight faded,he had to switch to pastels to see what he was doing and his art style fell out of fad with the snooty French academy. His work fell into obscurity before being rediscovered in the middle of the 19th century when French (and other) artists of that era returned to the same sorts of realistic styles, themes, and subject matter and got away from either the puffy flying seraphim of the Roccoco era or the stiff-armed noble society-savers and blemish-less figures of David and Ingres et al.

By the mid 19th century, more scenes of the real life of average people appeared, whether it was Millet or Daumier or others, and the still lifes and landscapes gave us back some rustic qualities. And artists returned to painting the things that REALLY MATTER: CATS.


Well, maybe not… cats have always been wonderful subjects for artists since they’re so wonderfully exotic, curvy and in the case of this work by Chardin, capable of wonderfully emotive facial expressions. That cat doesn’t want to just get a few bites out of that fish, that cat is telling you he OWNS that fish and will DOMINATE IT by eating it right out from under you.

And that goes double for those two hanging suckers as well, bubba.

Now go scoop my litterbox. I don’t care if you are Louis XV, never forget who really is the king around here, you powdered wigged fop sack of merde.

Continue reading “Friday Art: Still Life With Cat & Fish by Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin (1728)”

Some Boneless Short Ribs In The Slow Cooker

It’s gray and gross outside today. I got some chores to do around the house and will do them intermittently with farting around on a Sunday… so what better day to make my entire house smell like thyme & braised beef?

And a lazy recipe it is… perfect for my mood today. I took about 2 pounds of boneless short ribs, salt & peppered ’em up good, and then browned them nicely on all sides in a little olive oil.

Removed them to the slow cooker insert, then threw one cut-up onion (I cut it half, then just cut big 1 inch slices out of each half, jumbled it up a bit with my hands for big pieces), 3 chopped garlic cloves & a half tablespoon of dried thyme into the cooked oil/brown bits miscellany.

Cooked it for a bit, scraped up the brown bits, then added 1 cup chicken broth and a cup (maybe more) of a nice Italian red wine blend.

It’s mostly Nero with something else, making it just like Agrippina’s sex life. Hiyo! But seriously folks, it’s great to be back at the Circus Maximus. I’m here all week, until the lions show up… thank you and try the dormice and flamingo…

Brought the wine/onion mix to a slight simmer, added it to the slow cooker insert, and then put the cooker on high for 4 hours.

Will remove the beef to rest under foil for 10-15 minutes while I return the sauce to the stove top, cook down a bit, adjust the seasoning and then toss with the ribs. I’m figuring on two big HE-MAN sized portions, one of which will go into the freezer to taste even better as a leftover.

In the meantime, the music is on. The local jazz station has a blues show on during weekend afternoons. Maybe I’ll watch a movie during the day and another this evening. Maybe I’ll read a little. I look forward to drinking the rest of the wine with my dinner… maybe a nice big Italian-dressed salad (I’m thinking Armani) and a nice big piece of crunchy bread will suffice. Or maybe I’ll make some polenta as a bed for ’em, something I’m sure Agrippina did at the orgy more than once.

Truly Reliving My Childhood

Ah, Topps baseball cards… how much money and time did I spend buying wax packs of you back in the day? Chewing that cement-like gum sometimes, throwing it out more often… and sorting through the seemingly endless variety of benchwarmers to cull the great players, hall of famers and stars that I’d want to make sure I had in my collection?

Nowadays, a pack of Topps cards ain’t 10 cards for a dime, that’s for damn sure. And if I as a mature adult (cough) decided to buy this year’s set, I’d probably just buy some factory set on amazon or ebay and then enjoy parusing through it.

But then I’d miss all the fun of wax-pack-discovery…. what I experienced as a kid ripping open pack after pack and seeing the random assortment of cards inside. Maybe there was a Reggie Jackson or a Frank Robinson… more likely there were multiple Fred Lashers and Jim Gosgers.

Nothing against you personally, Fred & Jim, but I lost count of how many hard-earned-for-a-7-year-old dimes went across the counter in pursuit of that Ernie Banks.

AND THEN I MISTAKENLY TRADED IT AWAY…. oh GOD, that’s a sad story for another time.

Anyway, today I was in the local Target checking out some housewares as a diversion from the other grocery store in the same strip-mall, and found myself browing through the packs of sports cards.

They were to the left of the numerous packs of non-sports cards for all sorts of crap I’d sort-of heard of, like Pok√©mon type stuff, and other stuff I had no clue about.

They had hockey cards and baseball cards. (Surprisingly, no basketball cards). Topps puts out what they call a “Heritage” set every year, where they produce cards of today’s players with yesterday’s clearly better, memory-poking and altogether wonderful card designs. This year’s heritage set are styled like the 1970 Topps set, with the gray framing and cursive handwriting.

Not one of my favorite old designs, I must admit… (I’m especially partial to the look of the 1967 and 1973 sets, if you must know) but I prefer it to the new modern themes.

So I started looking through the various cello-wrapped cards out there hanging on those racks…. and found myself doing EXACTLY what I used to do as a kid – I carefully examined each back to see if I could identify the top and bottom card in the stack by looking through the wrapper.

We used to cheat & peel back the wax paper, returning reject packs to the counter & grabbing any pack that revealed a Nolan Ryan, Hank Aaron, Tom Seaver or whoever. Today I found myself, a supposedly responsible adult, standing in Target holding cello-wrapped jumbo packs of Topps Heritage cards up to the light & pressing down on them to see enough of that cursive writing to find out if Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar or any other Yankee I’d feel like a happy 7 year old getting in a pack were on the top or bottom of the damn thing.

The only thing missing was some annoying clerk coming over with a “Hey, this ain’t a library, kid” or some other such witticism to completely bring back my childhood.

I woulda shelled out the five bucks if they were. I came up empty, noticing more than one pack with Chris “I get paid even if I suck” Davis and Nick “Who?” Pivetta in more than one pack on the top, CONFIRMING MY LONG STANDING CONSPIRATORIAL BELIEF ABOUT TOPPS that they print WAY more cards for players who SUCK versus the players who don’t.

Funny… I don’t think any of today’s baseball cards featuring big stars will attain the value of the cards of olden days stars. The players’ stats might all be competitive… Hell, Mike Trout puts up numbers that evoke Mickey Mantle with healthy knees, but I know that Trout’s cards will never be as valuable as any Mantle card. I’ll hunt for & buy old cards here and there, every so often… I’d only buy today’s cards for collection filler…. and that’s why I’d much rather they’d still be 10 in a pack for a dime, to be honest. An inflation calculator tells me that 10 cents back in 1970 is pretty much equivalent to a dollar now, and I think a dollar now would feel a lot less to me than ten cents did when I was a kid…. but there’s no friggin way I’m spending five bucks for only a chance at players I’d like to have with only Chris Davis as the guarantee.

The child in the image of the man, after all….

Friday Art: Syncopated Rhythm, so called The Black Snake by Sonia Delaunay (1967)

Abstract art is a hit or miss for me. I either find it visually pleasing & interesting or I don’t. Great use of color or shapes evoking cubism and interesting patterns are a winning hook, so I find I very much like the works of Sonia Delaunay (as well as her husband, Robert Delaunay), who produced the sort of abstract paintings above in the early 20th century, as well as fashion designs based upon her abstract art.

Syncopated Rhythm gives us that black snake along the left next to the sort of geometric quasi-cubist juxtapositions of color and shape found in much of Delaunay’s work. While looking through a gallery of her work online after getting a tip from Elinor Shapiro, illustrator of my latest book, this was the one that leapt out at me for some reason. I studied it for a while and tried to figure out why… maybe because I remember riding along a Rhode Island country street named Snake Hill Road as a kid and made sure to work it into my second Wagstaff book. That black snake with its white line looks like a winding black top road, doesn’t it? Maybe the colors could be the different houses along it, or deep into the nearby woods… or maybe simply the way I remember seeing the different colored ’60s modern boxy houses pass by quickly out the rectangular car window as I rode along and looked out.

It’s hard to tell if Sonia Delaunay influenced Robert Delaunay’s work or vice versa. Most likely they were of like mind & influenced each other. They both painted similar styles, although she outlived him by decades due to his premature death from cancer. Her material reminds me a lot of Paul Klee’s use of color, although her shapes & definitions are sharper. But I always liked Klee’s stuff as well, even if I couldn’t figure out what the hell he meant by it… I just liked looking at it. That ought to be enough, shouldn’t it?

Continue reading “Friday Art: Syncopated Rhythm, so called The Black Snake by Sonia Delaunay (1967)”

Edward G. Robinson Needs To Behave Himself, Twice

In 1944 & 1945, Edward G. Robinson appeared in two similar noirs alongside Joan Bennett as the femme fatale and Dan Duryea as the sleazy blackmailer/crook in a pair of films directed by Fritz Lang. And both of them are well worth seeing.

Robinson finally got to stop being typecast as tough-guy gangsters by the late 1930s, and made a bunch of films in the 1940s where he played more dweebish and often psychologically damaged men confronted with the awful price of their desires, like his role in The Red House (1947) (No, not THAT Red House with best youtube ad ever). While his Pete in The Red House is crazy with a deep dark secret, the pair of characters he plays in Lang’s The Woman In The Window (1944) and Scarlet Street (1945) are simply nebbishes who wind up way in over their heads when they fall for characters played by Joan Bennett.

In “Window,” Robinson plays a bookish professor who sends his family off on vacay and then swoons over a painting hanging in a gallery outside his stuffy men’s club, only to meet the model herself, played by Bennett. Soon he’s having a drink with her, her angry boyfriend shows up, starts a fight and winds up dead. Robinson and Bennett conspire to hide the body, and then Raymond Massey as the District Attorney friend of Robinson’s actually calls him in to work on the case, even though the truth of it will lead to him. And then, things get more complicated when blackmailer Dan Duryea shows up…

Continue reading “Edward G. Robinson Needs To Behave Himself, Twice”

(Winter) Baseball Is Back!

Baseball exhibitions started up this weekend, and I actually spent time watching most of the first two Yankee games, mostly to see which veterans looked like they were getting in shape for the upcoming season, and seeing what minor league/rookie prospects the Yanks might have in the offing. I mean, who knew about Miguel Andujar at this point last year amirite?

And look at the Spring Training Schedule, where only the final 4 games are technically played during Spring. It’s really Winter baseball down there in Florida, but at least it makes me look forward to the Spring.

The first two games gave me little to go on in terms of Yankee prospects this year. Except for making “Mr. March!” jokes at Greg Bird’s expense, I guess. Some of the AAA players trying to make the team look like good prospects, tho. If we assume the PED screening is working honestly, I wonder if there are the beginning signs of a correlation between a shrinking number of boys going out for football and a growing number of really huge dudes showing up in baseball. I think we’ll see ’em soon, in any case.

If you recognize the pic above, you’re as big a baseball geek as me. And since I didn’t feel like digging out my old Strat-O-Matic board game from 1972 that I’ve got shelved up in the board game collection, I began reading online to see if there were a modern day MacOS equivalent baseball simulator, where you can play manager to current & historic teams.

Strat-O-Matic only makes a Windows version of their games, something that surprised me. You’d think they’d be more competitive.

But YE GODS did I find one that I can recommend to my fellow baseball nerds. Out Of The Park baseball will not only replay last year’s MLB stats but also comes with a historic database going back over a hundred years. It includes minor leagues, world baseball, and historic negro league teams, too. I’ve been playing with the demo and figured out how to match different teams in the same year, but not across time yet…. I played a 1932 match between the Yankees of that year (Gehrig, Ruth, Ruffing, Gomez, etc) against the Pittsburgh Crawfords (Satchell Paige, Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, et al), basically two of the all-time greatest teams… and it played out pretty well. But pitting the ’32 Crawfords against the ’98 Yankees or the ’32 Yankees against last year’s Red Sox…well, I haven’t figured out how to do that yet.

Out of The Park is FAR more elaborate than Strat-O-Matic, both a boon and a hinderance, though. OOTP runs a league for the entire season, has you as manager & general manager promote/demote players, deal with injuries, keeps track of relievers’ stresses, allows you to trade players, sign other executives…. it got overwhelming at times when all I wanted to do was match up a couple of historic teams and see how the stats would play out with my managerial strategery on one side. With Strat-O-Matic, you’d grab 2 card sets of teams and go. OOTP doesn’t provide any intuitive shortcuts, although maybe I still haven’t found them and I’m only playing the demo version so far, anyway.

So far, it’s played a lot of accurate games. Bucky Dent hit a winning walk-off homerun for the ’77 Yankees to defeat the ’77 Brewers. And I put Aroldis Chapman in to close & save a one run lead over the 2018 Red Sox, and he promptly walked the bases full and gave up a hit to lose the game. Now THAT’S realism!

I’ll play around with managing other teams, or seeing if I can just play one-shot games without loading all the general manager stuff. I can come up with endless combos and matchups I’d love to see, whether it’s 1968 Bob Gibson pitching to 1921 Babe Ruth or seeing if I can make Nolan Ryan bean Ty Cobb a few times. This thing certainly looks like baseball nerd nirvana.

I’ll play with the demo some more, and I’ll spring for the full version at some point, although I know how much of an awesome timewasting thing it will wind up being. But I can’t help myself! I NEED BASEBALL REHAB.

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